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Facing Forward: When Someone You Love Has Completed Cancer Treatment

  • Posted: 11/30/2010

Caring for Your Mind and Spirit

Finding Meaning After Cancer

Many caregivers find that cancer causes them to look at life in new ways. They may reflect on spirituality, the purpose of life, and what they value most. It is common to view the cancer experience both negatively and positively at the same time. After treatment, you and your loved one may struggle to understand why cancer has entered your lives. You may wonder why you have had to endure such a trial in your life.

The way cancer affects one's faith or religion is different for everyone. Some people turn away from their religion, while others turn toward it. It's common to question one's faith after cancer. But for others, seeking answers and searching for personal meaning helps them cope.

Many caregivers have found that their faith, religion, or sense of spirituality is a source of strength as they face life after cancer treatment. Many say that they have been able to find meaning in their lives and make sense of their cancer experience through their faith. Faith or religion can also be a way for caregivers and their loved ones to connect to others in their community who may share similar experiences or outlooks, or who can provide support. Studies have also shown that for some, religion can be an important part of both coping with and recovering from cancer.

Here are ways you may find comfort and meaning through your faith or spirituality:

  • Reading materials that are uplifting to help you feel connected to a higher power
  • Praying or meditating to help you feel less fearful or anxious
  • Talking about your concerns or fears with a leader of your faith community
  • Going to religious or spiritual gatherings to meet new people
  • Talking to others at your place of worship who have had similar experiences
  • Finding spiritual or faith-based resources for people dealing with chronic illnesses like cancer

Making Time for Yourself

If you've been putting your own needs aside, this may be a good time to think about how you can best care for yourself. Having some down time to recharge your mind and spirit can help you cope. You may want to think about:

  • Getting back to activities that you enjoy
  • Finding ways others can help you
  • Finding new ways to connect with friends

Let Others Help You

You may feel tempted to tell people that you and your loved one are doing fine and don't need help. It may be that you don't want to trouble people any longer. Chances are that both of you are tired and are still getting used to life after treatment. It may help to tell others that you're still adjusting and let them know ways they can help. Try to keep a support system made up of people such as:

  • Family and friends
  • Members of your faith or spiritual community
  • Neighbors
  • Coworkers
  • Members of civic groups and associations

Think about what type of support would be helpful. Do you need help from someone to do tasks? Or do you just need someone to be there to listen while you talk? The clearer you can be about your needs, the easier it is for people to help you.

Small Things I Can Do for Me

Each day, try to take some time to do something for you, no matter how small it is. Some ideas include:

  • Napping
  • Exercising or doing yoga
  • Keeping up with a hobby
  • Taking a drive
  • Seeing a movie
  • Working in the yard
  • Going shopping
  • Catching up on phone calls, letters, or e-mail

You may find that it's hard to relax, even when you have time for it. Some caregivers find it helpful to do exercises such as deep breathing or meditation.

Stay Open to New Sources of Support

Family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers who stayed away during treatment may now be willing or able to provide you with support. You may find it helpful to talk with someone who didn't go through the cancer experience with you. This could be a family member, friend, faith or spiritual leader, counselor, or support group member.

It's important to find ways to cope with your thoughts and feelings. Would talking with others help? If so, it's important for you to connect with other people, especially if you want to say things that you can't say to your loved one. Try to find someone you can really open up to about your feelings or fears.

However, be aware that others may not be there to help. They may feel awkward about helping or assume that you're getting back to "normal" and don't need help any more. Or they may have personal reasons, such as lack of time or things going on in their own lives.

Join a Support Group

"What I need at least once or twice a week is to talk to someone or a group of people who are in the same shoes as I am." - Vince

Support groups can meet in person, by phone, or over the Internet. They can help you gain new insight into what's happening, give you ideas about how to cope, and help you know that you're not alone.

In a support group, people may talk about their feelings and what they have gone through. They may trade advice with each other and help others who are dealing with the same kinds of issues. Some people like to go and just listen.

If you feel like you would enjoy outside support such as this, but can't get to a group in your area, try a support group on the Internet. Some caregivers say Web sites with support groups have helped them a lot. (See the Resources section to find out how to contact these groups.)

Find Respite Help

You may have used or looked into respite ("res-pit") care already. Even though your loved one has completed cancer treatment, there may still be many caregiving tasks. Respite helpers spend time with your loved one so you can rest, see friends, run errands, or do whatever you'd like to do. They can be paid or volunteer. Respite services can also help with the physical demands of caregiving, like lifting your loved one into a bed or a chair. If this service would be useful for you to start or keep, you may want to:

  • Talk with the patient about having someone come into your home to help out from time to time. If you already have respite care helpers, talk about keeping them for a while.
  • Ask the respite helpers what types of tasks they can do, now that treatment has ended.
  • Get referrals from friends or health care professionals. Your local agency on aging should also have suggestions.

Respite help can come from many sources:

  • Family, friends, or neighbors
  • Coworkers
  • Members of your faith community
  • Government agencies
  • Nonprofit groups
Whatever you do, remember that it isn't a failure on your part as a caregiver if you need help.

Talk to a Counselor

You may be feeling overwhelmed and feel like talking to someone outside your inner circle of support. Some caregivers find it helpful to talk to a counselor, psychologist or other mental health professional. Others also find it helpful to turn to a leader in their faith or spiritual community. All may be able to help you talk about things that you don't feel that you can talk about with your loved one or others around you. You also might find ways of expressing your feelings and learn ways of coping that you hadn't thought of before.

Give Back to Others in Need

After treatment ends, many caregivers feel the need to give back to others who are facing cancer. They turn their energy to helping people in their community, joining support groups, or volunteering with cancer organizations. For many, making a difference in the lives of others also helps them to help themselves. For more information on ways that you can make a difference in the lives of people with cancer, see the inside cover to find out how to request NCI's brochure, Facing Forward: Making A Difference in Cancer.

Write in a Journal

Many caregivers find that writing in a journal helps them decrease negative thoughts and feelings. Expressing things on paper may help you process what you're going through. You can write about any topic, such as your most stressful experiences or something that is bothering you. You can also write about the things that lift you up and bring you joy, such as a kind neighbor, a stress-free day, or time spent with others.

Look for the Positive

Caregivers say that looking for the good things in life helps them feel better. They also try to focus on the things they can control, rather than the things they can't. Each day, try to think about something that you found rewarding about caregiving. Or take a moment to feel good about anything positive about the day - a nice sunset, a hug, a good meal, or something funny you heard or read.

Let Yourself Laugh

It's okay to laugh. In fact, it's healthy. Laughter releases tension and makes you feel better. You can read humor columns, watch comedy shows, talk with amusing friends, or remember funny things that have happened to you. Keeping your sense of humor in trying situations is a good coping skill.

Worrying About Your Risk of Cancer
"Before my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, I didn't think much about my own health. But now I'm worried because my grandmother had breast cancer, too. It's not only me, but also my 10-year-old daughter I'm worried about. Shouldn't we both get checked?" - Jeanne

A blood relative's cancer diagnosis may make you more concerned about whether you will get cancer, too. Most cancer is not passed down through families. Only about 5 to 10 percent of the most common cancers - breast, colon, and prostate cancer - are inherited. This is an important topic to discuss with your doctor.

Your doctor will want to know what types of cancer have been in your family and which family members had it. The more relatives you have had with certain types of cancer, the higher your risk. Talk to your doctor about prevention and screening.

If you have a strong family history of cancer, you may want to talk to your doctor about whether genetic testing is right for you. Some people like to know this, so they can get tests or cancer screenings more often.